It’s 10:30pm. You haven’t eaten all day. All you need to do is get out of bed, gather your things, and walk to the communal kitchen to make yourself a cup of oatmeal. Easy, right? Totally easy. Simple. People make oatmeal all the time. A monkey could make oatmeal. Probably.

But you? You definitely cannot get up and make oatmeal. Making oatmeal sounds great in theory, but you can’t move — you’re paralyzed with fear that someone might see you, might judge you, might try to interact with you if you leave your room. You’re desperately hungry, and you’re angry at yourself. But making oatmeal is just impossible. It can’t be done.

For many people, this experience is incommunicable. ‘What’s the big deal?’ some might ask. It’s a simple task. All you need to do is get up and make yourself some oatmeal. But for those of us with anxiety — for any of us, in fact, who deal with executive dysfunction — the problem is abundantly clear. Getting up to make oatmeal isn’t all you need to do — you also need to do all the little tasks that you have to do in order to both get up and make oatmeal, and reckon with the psychological (or physical) reason you haven’t been able to do that already.

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The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne (Lemonsucker Games) is a short game, but it’s incredibly effective at providing a realistic experience of social anxiety. The goal of the game is simple: all you need to do is get Sam up and convince her to make herself a cup of oatmeal in the communal kitchen. But in order to do so, you must combat the terror and discomfort that Sam herself combats every time she leaves the relative safety of her room — terror and discomfort that mounts and becomes ever more dire the longer she’s away from it.

There are many points of realism in this game, from Sam’s constant, niggling worries that strangers are judging her, to her awkwardness as she tries to appear ‘normal’. One of the more ‘video-game-y’ aspects — the hunger meter — also adds to an authentic experience of anxiety. Hunger increase occurs whether you act or not — you feel more hungry after engaging in certain actions, and less for engaging in others. But the tension mounts no matter what. Your job as the player — and, indeed, as a person in this very situation — is to reduce fallout, and to run damage control.

In fact, I found it relatively easy to navigate the in-game choices if I approached Sam the way I approach my own anxious self. By giving voice to her calmer, more logical internal voices and refusing to either engage or chastise her irrational, anxious internal voices, I was able to guide her through tasks with more success. To succeed in her quest, Sam needs both calm reassurance, and encouragement to take the actions that will result in the least amount of psychological harm to her. She needs permission to avoid socializing with strangers, but also needs to be encouraged to keep herself busy so she won’t obsess over her own anxious internal dialogue.

To those who don’t experience social anxiety, it may feel like there’s no ‘right answer.’ But for those of us who do, it’s just a matter of understanding that in these situations, it’s like we’re holding our breath — oxygen loss is inevitable, so the best course of action is to get what we need and return to the surface as quickly as possible. There is no ‘stress-free’ route through life when you have social anxiety — there’s just one route where you end up crying, and another route where you don’t.

This is an experience I lived all through college. It’s an experience I still undergo on a regular basis. After completing my playthrough of the game (which, for the record, took 30 minutes, tops) I actually found myself in tears. Sam’s situation resonated with me so clearly, and felt so authentic. I knew instantly that the game must have been written by someone who clearly experiences intense social anxiety and executive dysfunction the way I do, someone else for whom ‘simple’ tasks like making food in a communal space is excruciating, terrifying business.

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I felt so much sympathy for Sam, as a character. Her story invoked personal memories of similar experiences I’ve had. During my first playthrough, Sam succeeded in making herself food but forgot her keys in her dorm room, and ended up slumped outside her locked door, crying. Watching her come so far, fight so hard for her humble prize only to fail because of one simple, silly mistake was like reading an account of my own life. I felt the same sense of crushing defeat that I felt when this sort of thing really happens to me — as though the world itself were rejecting me.

By the same token, when I finally succeeded in getting Sam back through her bedroom door, warm oatmeal in hand, it felt like a true victory in a way I’m not sure everyone who plays the game will understand. I was so immensely proud for doing this one, simple thing, and so glad to finally be back in my room where it was safe. Like all victories in the never-ending internal battle with anxiety, it was bittersweet — through Sam, I still felt the sting of humiliation and frustration with myself for what an ordeal retrieving my small meal had been. But I was home, safe, and the trial was over for now. I had survived to fight another day.

The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is currently free-to-play on Steam. I encourage you all to download it. If you’ve never experienced social anxiety, allow this to be a short window for you into what it’s like for people who do. If you do experience social anxiety, allow this to act as reassurance that we are not, in fact, alone, and that our feelings of frustration and isolation as a result of anxiety are much more common than we think.


Want to learn more about Samantha Browne? Check out Kevin King‘s interview with the creator, Andrea Ayers-Deets, in the newest episode of A Momentary Pause.